Northeast Culinary Tour

28 Sep

We took Thursday and Friday off last week to go on a little culinary adventure. That, and an extremely busy week at work, are the reason for the scarce updates of late. But, I’m about to make up for it…

The trip started off with a visit and tour of the Culinary Institute of America (or the CIA, for short). The CIA is in Hyde Park, NY and is situated in an old monastery right on the Hudson River. The campus is very nice and it is somewhat of a promised land for food knowledge. Many famous chefs have come through the CIA and it is one of the most highly regarded institutions of its type in the world. Corinne and I have both been reading “The Making of a Chef” by Michael Ruhlman, so we have been looking forward to this eagerly.

There are two aspects to the CIA- the Culinary Arts side and the Pastry side. Despite Corinne’s reputation as a cupcake master, we are both actually more interested in Culinary Arts (cooking, not baking). This brings me to the student guided tour, which was about an hour and a half long.

Roth Hall

We started out by heading into Roth hall and into the Pastry area. We saw everything from cake decorating, to cake baking, to cookies, candies, and even bread. We then headed past a few of the on campus restaurants to sneak a peak and learn a bit about them. After that we headed to a student dorm, the athletic complex and a few other places. I was sure we were now going to head over to the main event: flaming pans, sweating cooks running around, shouting, meat, vegetables and of course, the Holy Grail… stocks!

But no, our tour had ended and we were back where we started. I was confused, even upset, did I miss it? Had we seen all that wonderful stuff we had come to see and I happened to be checking the Kitty Cam? Nope. We skipped it. It’s not on the tour. Our tour guide was not to blame of course because she has a well-scripted path to take, but I feel we were cheated out of what we really came to see. It would be like if you were a golfer and you went to Pebble Beach and they showed you a hockey rink.

My only hope was that the cooking demonstration we were about to see would make up for it. There was a small cooking auditorium with a nice commercial kitchen setup, perfect to… slice up some cold salmon and wrap it up with some cream cheese. To say I was disappointed in the CIA open house is an understatement.

L' Escoffier

After the open house was over, we had about a half hour to peruse the campus and get fancied up a bit for our 7:30 reservation at L’Escoffier restaurant. This is the fanciest restaurant of the four on campus, and is completely staffed by students both in the kitchen (back of house) and in the dining room (front of house). We were greeted by a formally dressed maitre d’ and seated promptly. We even caught a glimpse of the Front of House instructor we had read about in the book, Philip Papineau. We were given menus with a few specials, and our choice of fresh baked bread from the bakery.

I ordered a soup on a whim and I am still dreaming of having it again. It was so simple, but so incredible in its flavor I couldn’t get over it. All those chapters about stocks and consommés finally made sense, and I knew that I needed to get back to work trying to perfect our own stock at home so we can someday recreate this soup to serve to our guests and eventually have them blog about it! This was life changing soup.

This au pistou soup is a very basic chicken stock-based vegetable soup. The version we had was even simpler than the classic version and I think that really doesn’t give them any chance to hide any mistakes in a pile of ingredients. The bowl came out with a tiny pile of small diced vegetables and no liquid. The broth was then ladled on, dispersing the vegetables. I think I’ve gone on enough about how good it was, but it was just something that only fresh-made ingredients and proper techniques all the way through can derive. In a spoonful, it kind of summed up what it is that students at the CIA learn as they go through the intense program of becoming a classically trained cook. Oh yeah, we ate some other stuff too, but that’s neither here nor there.

That’s just Thursday! Details on Friday will follow.

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